Sunday, December 12, 2010

Santa and the Culling

I hate Christmas.

Let me clarify.

I hate retail Christmas.

I don't mind spending time in church, listening to carols, driving through neighborhoods to look at houses decked out in lights.  But I hate what retail has done to Christmas.  This coming from someone who isn't overly church-going.  I follow Christian tenants, encourage my children to do the same, but I don't attend church every week.  

Yesterday my family (my wife and after much prodding, all three children) tackled cleaning out kiddie toys in the basement.  The culling as my wife put it.  We aren't finished but we have gotten a huge swath of toys sorted, bagged, and processed (either for donation or garbage).  During the process there was much, "I want to keep that", "What was that from?", "Oh look it's the kid's first X", etc.  Along with those sentiments there were several tears shed by my youngest.  The tears could have been from her seeing part of her childhood being bagged up and given away, or from a bit of a cold that she is fighting.  Our society is very much a "give me what I want", "that's mine", self centered culture.  Mostly due to Television and the constant barrage of the cool new thing.  My family has fallen into that societal shift.  The evidence of that is currently in my basement where there are seven rubber tubs now empty of what used to be stuffed animals, dolls, play sets, etc.  I have three full 30 gallon sized garbage bags full of old toys ready for donation, a banquet table covered with play sets too big to fit into large garbage bags, and eight 15 gallon sized bags full of trash.  Why?  Seriously.  Why do we have so much crap?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Things to do without a PS3

I got home on Friday last week after a long day of work to find my PS3 no longer able to boot.  I went to boot up the console with one of my Dual Shock 3 controllers and heard the familiar beep and whirl of the fan and then a sharp beep beep and then nothing.  Huh.  So I pressed the power button again and nothing.  A flash of panic hit me.  I pressed the button again and saw the green light come on, the familiar fan whirling to life and then saw the green light flash yellow and then begin to blink slowly red.  Poof.  Gone.  Dead.  Just like that.  

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Spider Man Shattered Impressions

Last night I posted two tweets after playing the new Beenox developed Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions.  They weren't exactly positive comments about the game.  I don't regret tweeting them but I got a polite DM today asking to clarify my comments.  Since it has been a long time since I've actually posted anything worthwhile here I figure I would expand on my experience with the game.

I haven't played any past solo Spider-Man games, but I have played X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse, Marvel Ultimate Alliance and MUA 2 as well as forming my early years nose buried in too many Marvel comics to list.  I try to avoid reading too much about a game I want to play for fear of it skewing my feelings before getting to actually play, but I have skimmed one or two reviews to get the sense that SMSD has a lot of good but a few points that keep the game from being a game of year contender.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Little Big Planet 2

I feel a bit obliged to post the new trailer for Little Big Planet 2 from Media Molecule because I post the announcement trailer a few months ago and because I haven't posted anything else in a while. (Dreadful thing having a summer full of gaming and chasing kids around--joking of course)

All joking aside here is the latest trailer for LBP2, which gives us the impression that the new game won't just be a whole new game engine to learn and build our own levels from, but a full 50 new MM created games. How can you not like Sackboy?

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Good, The Bad (Ass), and the Ugly

I've been a fan of Rockstar games for a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed Max Paine (one of the few PC games at that time that I played through to the end--ignoring family that had come to visit during Christmas). But what really got me hooked was when I picked up GTA: Vice City back in the summer of 2003 for the PC. The sandbox feel, the music, the missions, the gritty story with lots of dark humor. This was my type of game.

GTA San Andreas really expanded on the notions that I loved in Vice City, with three distinct cities to unlock and explore. The sheer size of the state of San Andreas was mind boggling but awesome. There were many nights where I'd simply get into a car and drive, just to find random things to jump off of and listen to the fantastic variety of music.

GTA 4 came out 2 years ago and I was again drawn back into the new world that had been created. So much time was spent re-creating a living breathing video game version of New York City, that you couldn't help but want to spend time just messing around with all of the various modes of transport. Car, truck, motorcycle, helicopter and to even some extent subway cars. The city was vast and ripe for exploring and exploiting. I've played through the game two times (the first time I played through without trophies and a second time more recently to try and earn what I could before the next big Rockstar title would consume my play time).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Little Big Planet 2 announced!

I have been getting back into the groove of Little Big Planet. Recently I have created a new level that recreates the events from Fallout 3 that earn you the gold trophy "The Bigger They Are..." where you have to kill 4 Super Mutant Behemoths.

This morning Media Molecule has released the trailer for Little Big Planet 2.

After playing so many hours of the original, I can't help be be excited for this new sequel. The video says that all of the original user created levels work with the new one. That is good news.

Personally I'm more curious to see how much more they have put into the creation tutorial side of things. While there are plenty of user forums and home made videos giving explanations on how to create the more complex stuff, I can't help but wonder how much Media Molecule will add of their own.

The video also highlights how users can create whole stories. The original Little Big Planet tried to do this with the Community Key that you can create and add to each level. My experience with this though is that user generated levels tended to lump all of their keys in at once instead of stringing levels along. Maybe this new implementation will make that more intuitive.

One of the best "upgrades" to come to Little Big Planet is the ability to see each created level in it's own webpage. The ability to view information about levels while away from the PS3 and add them to your own queue to play at a later date is a huge success. One of the biggest disadvantages to the current Little Big Planet is the fact that once you create a level you are at the whim of the community to find the level in game. Sure you can promote the title on forums etc, but the ability to link to each level individually is probably the best thing that could happen to user created content in this game. Hopefully the initial deployment of this infrastructure doesn't buckle as soon as the new game is released and everyone rushes at once to see their own levels on line.

I'm sure that more of this game will be revealed at E3 next month. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 7, 2010

And now for something completely different

As some of you readers know I used to work for Barnes and Noble.  You could even say that was my first career.  Starting my way in the company as a receiver for the Evanston, IL store, moved to the Grosse Pointe, MI store, transferred to the Scottsdale, AZ store and then eventually back to the Grosse Pointe store.  In each store and throughout the years I held several different jobs titles.  Receiver (or as some have likened it, the SSRD--Supervisor of Shipping and Receiving Department), department lead for Religion, Art, Travel, Business, and Computers, lead cashier (such a horrid job) and then my final role, Magazine lead.  The last role was great.  Each day was like Christmas.  New boxes of magazines to open and sort and put out onto the shelves, old ones to strip and count and send back.  My own little ecosystem of magazines.  Stuff you'd never think was out there would end up in a box for me to put on the shelf.  With all the love I had for the job I could never find enough time to read the stuff I wanted to read.

I'm a gamer so of course I'd read through a ton of gaming mags.  I love movies, so I'd also dedicate some time to a handful of movie magazines that weren't Entertainment Weekly or Premiere.  I'd even spend some time with the guilty pleasure of Maxim or FHM (for the articles of course).  The one type of magazine that always made my list of intended reading was fiction.  That was always the complaint while working at the Pit--er Barnes and Noble.  So much to read and so little time to read it.  While I've read some of the bigger names that fall into the genre of fantasy and science fiction, I know that I'm also not the most well read.  I've read some of the greater works, Tolkien, Clarke, Moorecock, Zahn and in the last few years Martin's Song of Fire and Ice.  

Fiction in a magazine always felt like a chore or an after thought for some reason.  Why read a magazine for a story when I had literally thousands of books at my disposal?  Perhaps it was the company layout I had to follow that sort of helped to cement that idea as well, with the fiction magazines relegated to the smallest, lowest, hardest to access section in the whole Periodicals display.  One title that always struck me as a something I should read but never got around to reading was Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Well after three years of no longer working for at Barnes and Noble, I finally have had my opportunity to read the magazine.  Hilary Goldstein from IGN had posted on Facebook that he was going to have one of his stories published and the magazine was offering free advance copies for those who wanted to read and then write about it.  As the folks who read my blog with any regularity know (and those who know me personally) I'm not the fastest reader (or rather I find other things to do before I allow myself time to read).  I received the May/June issue and told myself that I needed to read as much as I could right away or I'd never get around to finishing it. Well I've read several of the stories and I'm now finally get around to writing about them.  Since I heard about the offer from Goldstein I flipped through the magazine to read his story first.

As his comment on Facebook stated, "Spoilers: Snow White has an orgasm. How can you pass that up?" I was intrigued.  "Seven Sins for Seven Dwarves" is a new spin on Snow White running from the huntsman tasked with killing her, and her finding and living with seven dwarves.  When I read Maguire's Wicked I found that book to be a very interesting new take on the whole Oz story but my biggest problem with Maguire's retelling was a lack of humor.  Because of that lack of humor I have given up on wanting to read any of Maguire's other fairy tale re-imagings (included Mirror Mirror).  That said, Goldstein nails the humor.  Dark humor pervades the story.  The line "If ever a bond between girl and dwarf could be forged, it was with moderate nudity" got me chuckling in the dark way that the rest of story unfolds.  The dwarves are not the cute Disney fluff, rather they are ugly, grimy, untrusting souls bent on one task that they refuse to explain to Snow.  Goldstein creates a fantastically morbid new view of the dwarves and Snow White.  As Snow begins to clean and pick up after the dwarves she finds that each dwarf has a locked chest in front of their beds.  Snow is drawn to one in particular and is tantalized by whispers and sensations emanating from the chest.  The dwarves rush in to find Snow mounted over the particular chest in the throws of ecstasy in what could be described as her first introduction to the equivalent of an archaic Sybian (if you want to know what that is, look it up yourself).

Snow quickly realizes that each chest contains the demon embodiment of the original Seven Deadly sins.  Through confrontation between Snow and the lead dwarf Unus, Goldstein weaves a wonderful explanation of vanity and hubris between human and dwarven kind.  With each section in the tale, Goldstein unveils more and more details to deliver a thought provoking tale on the origins of the seven deadly sins.  My only complaint is the world that Goldstein creates is so rich but so tightly focused on Snow and the dwarves that I want to see more in additional tales.

Another favorite story in the May/June issue "Why That Crazy Old Lady Goes Up the Mountain" by Michael Libling.  Libling crafts a tale of God and reliving past lives in such an amazing world.  His characters Sarah and Kevin clash and love at the same time in such a great way as they discover their own pasts.  The key to the story however is how Libling kills God and puts such a beautiful burden on Kevin and his family.  The abilty to obsorb souls that are damned to Earth after God has died  and are drawn to the burial ground is pure magic.  As Sarah learns from Kevin how he knows everything about her past, she discovers her own addiction to allowing the souls to overtake herself to relive other lives.  The conceit of God dying and trapping souls would only go so far without the danger that Libling deftly weaves in between the tale of Sarah and Kevin.  Sarah is first depicted as an unobtainable, cold young woman who dealing with the death of both parents, but by the end of the tale, I felt love and sorrow for all that she learns and endures.  Her eye opening worldly embrace of Kevin in such a short time is believable and works on levels of joy and sadness when the danger of their lives being torn apart becomes real.  Libling writes a wonderfully magical tale that, like Goldstein, makes me wish they would write more in their respective worlds.  

But that is what is so magical about the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction.  Each story is so completely realized in such a focused tale that they are perfect for the format of the magazine.  My only regret is not reading the magazine sooner.  Will I be picking up future issues?  You bet.  Do yourself a favor and go to your favorite bookshop now and get the latest issue.  Read it and if you think I'm wrong, let me know.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rock in LEGO

The core game is nothing more than Rock Band.  Story Mode unlocks new venues by earning LEGO studs instead of money as well as earning fans and stars (based on the performance of each song played).

Each new venue is unlocked by buying a unique vehicle (that becomes more and more extravagant as your band gains popularity).  In addition to the new vehicles for each venue, a specific challenge is unlocked as you earn more stars.  The specific challenge then opens with the iconic Travelers Tales LEGO humor and character work, in which you either battle ghosts (aptly playing Ray Parker Jr's Ghostbusters)  or recharge an alien ship's power source (playing Europe's Final Countdown) without the benefit of using the Overdrive boost.  Each new set piece is a great creation to look at, unfortunately there aren't enough different audience member models or skins so after a few sets the rocking hordes of fans look very plastic and drone like (perhaps intentional given the source material--but compared to Rock Band 1 & 2 is very noticeable and someone disappointing).

When songs are completed, studs are earned which can then be spent on the band's clubhouse as upgrades.  The clubhouse has a TV viewing area which allows you to re-watch unlocked cut scenes, a practice stage (for practicing of course), a music shop (which allows you to purchase better looking instruments--which unlock as songs are compeleted) as well as several other unique areas for hanging out doing what LEGO characters do best....act silly.

Along with buying new items for your clubhouse, you can hire members in your entourage.  The entourage will boost fans and studs earned after each gig.  The benefit of hiring all of the entourage members becomes apparent the further into the game.  The tally screen at the end of each song takes longer and longer to count up the fans and studs earned as the bonus from each additional entourage member multiplies the number accordingly.  The way that LEGO Rock Band implements the entourage makes a lot more sense than how hired help is utilized in Rock Band 1 and 2.

My biggest gripe and praise for LEGO Rock Band stem from the same thing.  Song selection.  If you were playing LEGO Rock Band without ever having played Rock Band 1 or 2 (or downloaded songs for those), then the song rotation in LRB becomes weak very quickly.  However one of the greatest things about LRB is the fact that it recognizes most the library that you may have created by downloading songs for Rock Band 1 and 2 (or imported RB1 for RB2).  This definitely gives LRB some additional milage.

As a music game LRB really shines for younger kids who want to play the game but may not have the co-ordination to play even on easy.  Harmonix has added a Very Easy mode which to many veteran RB players would consider having all of the fun taken away, but for really young players who have taken a shine to the indomitable litte brick, this is a fantastic addition.

Fun for the whole family, LEGO Rock Band is a great game for trophy hunters as well.  If you already have plastic instruments in the house (and kids as well), LEGO Rock Band is worth picking up.

Glorious Kratos

It has been too long since I've posted anything about gaming or otherwise but I have to admit that my silly attempt at hunting trophies in February took a bit of a toll on my desire to game, track trophies, and write about my experiences all the while working and keeping up with my kids.

During the time since I last posted anything I have played through Modern Warfare 2, continued a second play through of Dragon-Age: Origins, rocked through LEGO Rock Band, visited the battlefield of Vasari in Killzone 2, destroyed the Secret Armory of General Knoxx and killed Zeus in God of War 3.

I have always been drawn to the iconic character of Kratos even before owning a PS3 (and of course not ever owning a PS2).  Something visually menacing about the white ghost frame with the red battle tattoos has always drawn me to the character.  In addition to the look of Kratos, add his Blades of Chaos and the sheer rage that bubbles out of Kratos with every attack and I can't help but get sucked into the Greek tragedy that is the God of War story.

Earlier this year I took to task the completion of the God of War Collection (re-mastered in HD for the PS3) and found myself really enjoying God of War 1.  During my play through of GoW1 I won a copy of Bayonetta which arrived conveniently enough as I was finishing GoW1.  Going into Bayonetta I wasn't quiet sure what to expect other than knowing it would be at minimum a button mashing experience like GoW1.  As it turns out Bayonetta is a whole lot more than just button mashing.  Rather Bayonetta is well tuned combat experience balancing button mashing combos and a fluid dodge mechanism that gives the Umbran witch the upper hand.  Plowing through GoW1 and then Bayonetta, I had planned on going back to the Collection and complete the God of War 2 story so that the whole arc was fresh in my mind by the time God of War 3 came out.

Then something happened.  I loaded up God of War 2, started the initial battle and realized two things.  First off, my hands were tired of button mashing.  Secondly, I wasn't inspired by Kratos.  Perhaps it was the fact that I was expecting more from the second iteration of Kratos' story, figuring that the graphics would get a notch crisper and the story telling would be able to one up everything from GoW1.  I think overall it had more to do with the fact that last gen gaming compared to current gen gaming, while solid on it's own, just doesn't have the same resonance when compared to the latest and greatest.  Perhaps after playing Bayonetta and becoming used to that style of combat and defense I wanted more of that but in a different skin.  Or perhaps I realized that even though Kratos looks cool, he is basically just an angry dick.

I turned to shooters and music for a bit to help erase the mindset of button mashing and angry war gods (a topic or two worth mentioning at a later date) but after chatting with a co-worker and listening to several podcasts I was determined to see if I was wrong about Kratos after all.

I admit that I did not go out and buy GoW3.  I did buy several Slurpees to get the Kratos Dynamic theme for my XMB, but my feelings about GoW 3 kept me from dropping 60$ for a game that can essentially be finished in 10-12 hours.

Sliding the disc into the PS3, the game loads up quickly and immediately begins a gorgeously designed silhouetted recap of the events from the first two games.  As with the second game, Kratos begins with his full powers but quickly has them stripped away in his initial confrontation with the gods he wishes to kill.  I'll admit I'm a fanboy of the PS3 because of the rich visuals that can be created from the console.  God of War 3 wastes no time in proving just how vast and awesome the graphics can be.  The fidelity and depth of field that is conveyed in the initial battle as Kratos climbs up a the Titan Gaea while she is climbing up Mt. Olympus leaves you awestruck.  So much rich texture and detail is moving across the screen at all times while the camera zooms from one battle to the next in quick succession showing just how huge the battle of Titans versus gods versus Kratos really is. 

Camera work is masterfully handled allowing you to see everything important going on, long enough to grasp what is expected, and then pans along to the next objective, all the while the massive Titan is being rocked by water hydras, flaming boulders and swarms of arrows raining down.  Epic.  Truly epic.

As the initial jaw dropping moments wane, you finally start to appreciate the detail that has been given to Kratos.  Whether the camera is zoomed in close to see individual pores, scars and sweat on Kratos' face or pulled back to the point where Kratos can only be identified by his flaming Blades of Chaos, every action that you give to Kratos just feels right.  Jumping, attacking, dodging, Kratos moves with a determination that (to me at least) was lacking at the beginning of God of War 2.

Without giving too much away I feel that the developers at Santa Monica studio really took pride in every aspect to create such a rich game.  Each environment feels unique and they take advantage of the power that the PS3 provides.  A new element of game play is the head of Helios, which acts as a flashlight, flashbang grenade, and tool for revealing hidden treasures. Color lighting also is exceptional and is reminiscent of the light saber battle at the end of Star Wars Attack of the Clones. 

In addition to the new Helios power, Kratos also collects additional weapons along the way that behave similarly to the Blades of Chaos but effect either the creatures you battle differently or help to remove obstacles in the environment.  In the previous titles the additional weapons that Kratos picks up all feel secondary and almost unnecessary; however, the new weapons not only feel and act differently, but are definitely necessary to continue through environments and waves of enemies.  When Kratos picks up Hercules' fists, they are needed for destroying shielded creatures as well as environmental amber crystals.  The Claws of Hades summon various souls that are unlocked as the game progresses which act as a pet to help battle the waves of enemies.  The Claws of Hades also are used to bring various specters out of a plane of existence that allows them to attack but not be attacked until sucked into the physical realm.  Several other weapons are also obtained and can be accessed by either selecting them from the D-pad or by the newly mapped quick select (L1+X) which is a great addition to game and allows you to cycle through the available weapons while in the heat of battle without having to move your thumb from the left analog stick.

All of the great weapons and rich environments only take the game halfway to being a complete experience.  As I mentioned above, after finishing God of War 1 and immediately jumping into 2, I quickly became disillusioned by Kratos' rage and need for vengeance.  Something spoke to me fairly early into the game this time however and I think it was the performance by Rip Torn as Hephaestus.  Torn's voice work is really strong and you can feel the sorrow Hephaestus has endured for so many years.

In addition to Torn's work as Hephaestus I was surprised by Kratos' reaction toward Pandora herself and his need to find and protect her (almost as a way to forgive himself for the slaughter of his own wife and daughter in GoW1) perhaps spoke to my fatherly instincts in a way that I wasn't expecting for a game that thrives on bloodshed and revenge. By the time Kratos reaches Pandora I had become completely sucked in and wanted to see how saving the young Pandora would help Kratos defeat the gods of Olympus.

Many have complained that the end of God of War 3 was a bit of cop out. While the battle between Kratos and Zeus isn't much different from any of the previous battles I was really impressed by the fact that moments within the battle were something you would find in classic Disney movies instead of (again) a game that thrives on bloodshed and revenge. Perhaps it is due to the power of the PlayStation, but the fact that Santa Monica studios broke up the end battle with a few minutes of pantomime shadow figures was something new and really added a touch of class that could have easily been skipped. To those who say that video games aren't art, I'd challenge them to play the final battle of Zeus and Kratos and say that that isn't art. Highly stylized and perfectly implemented, the final moments of the game really cap the story for all three games.

For as rich and creative the ending is, one of my biggest complaints with the game go back to the complaints that I have with GoW1. Some environmental puzzles in the games in the game are so completely ridiculous that they really take you out of the entire experience. First off, whoever thought putting a musical rhythm segment in should be put on a different project. While the idea of playing a refrain from the game's score to unlock the next part of the game is a cool idea, the overall design was bad. I don't want to play Rock Band in God of War, I want to kill, maim, and destroy enemies. Playing a mock pipe organ to unlock a puzzle using musical quick time moments really destroyed the moment for me.

My other big environmental complaint is during the labyrinth. There is a cube room in which enemies spawn to attack; all the while sections of the floor have spikes that pop up from the floor in a pattern of alternating corners of the floor, eventually popping up across the whole floor. While that puzzle doesn't sound bad, what makes it a horrible moment is the fact that when the entire floor becomes spikes, Kratos needs to latch onto a harpy that is flying above the room, but since there are many different enemies on the floor attacking, Kratos doesn't always latch on to the harpy to pull himself up in time resulting in insta-death. Making things worse is the fact that once you do latch onto a harpy, the cube room rotates and you drop down on to the new floor to face the same situation but with the floor spikes popping up in a different pattern. When you die you end up having to start over from the first floor again. This ranks right up there in the "Seriously, why the hell did anyone think that this was fun?" category. One of the on-disc documentaries shows Stig Asmussen (director for God of War 3) testing out a section during development and he comments (paraphrased) "This is not fun, but frustrating; I've already died four times and want to put the controller down." Obviously many iterations of various sections were tested and re-done, but to me the cube of death in the labyrinth was one section that needed to be baked a bit more.

Even though there are a few really rough moments in the game, I cannot say enough to really praise God of War 3. The game is a visual masterpiece. Obviously I'm not alone in thinking that the game is good as it has already sold over a million copies in less than a month of being released. While that's nothing compared to the dreck that is Modern Warfare 2, it says a lot about gamers wanting more than just a rehash of last year's shooter. God of War 3 is definitely a game that is not for kids (gory dismemberment, curb stomping deaths and jiggly boobs to name a few) but this is most certainly a showcase title that needs to be experienced by anyone who has ever called themselves a gamer.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Brutality of Bayonetta

I finished Bayonetta earlier this week. 

I enjoyed the game but feel like even though I've completed the story, the "game" is disappointed in my ability.

The story is crazy.  I found myself getting caught up with the Bayonetta's quest to remember her past and was compelled to see how everything would become resolved.  But I have to admit that I also felt like I would never finish some of the fights.  Last week I tweeted that I found verse 5 in Chapter 6 to have one of the more difficult battles.  I still stand by that.  Any battle that has more than 2 lightning fast mobs swarming you on screen is going to automatically end with me either dying or wasting a Red Hot shot or a using one or more of the green lollies.

I started playing the game with a conservative view toward my ingredients (mostly because I didn't quite understand the benefits of the various lollies) but by the end of the game I was compelled to use everything at my disposal to get through each fight so that I could see how the story ended.

As I said the story is crazy (too crazy to try and recap or explain) suffice to say that as an Umbran witch Bayonetta realizes she has magnificent powers and recognizes that she has a destiny to use those powers to restore her memory and restore a wrong done to her some 500 years ago.  Once you get that concept down the rest of the story is just a hoot to see how exactly every setting that is created fits without losing sight of the game's reality.  The reality isn't William S. Burroughs skewed, but definitely makes you scratch your head at times, and laugh out loud at others.  

The thing that has really grown on me about Bayonetta is just how much the game subtly forces you to learn how to play better.  For every lolly that you use or death that you have (and continue) a penalty is applied to your score at the end of the level.  Even with mostly golds, silvers or the random platinum won for each verse in a chapter I still had to use enough lollies or died to keep my score diminished to the point that I always got a Stone trophy at the end.  At the end of the game a humbling chart shows how you did.  A line of green trophies all across the chart is what I ended up.

By seeing the humbling chart and realizing how much of a penalty I was incurring at the end of each chapter I really want to go back through the game again and make sure that I get a better score but also purchase some of the better items.

My only real complaint with the game is it doesn't seem to know when to say enough is enough.  Boss battles are creatively designed but once you face a boss they show up again and again in the later chapters.  As if fighting the mobs weren't enough, "let's pile on more versions of the last boss from two levels ago".  Maybe I was just trying to rush through so that I could find out the story, but I can't help but feel that there are just a few too many waves of enemies toward the end of the game.

Regardless of the quantity of enemies, the ride all along is an enjoyable one.  Bayonetta is one game that really is surprisingly fun.  One thing that I'd really like to see added to the game (although it would break the story) is the ability to have local co-op or at least local dual combat.  If you get a chance to play I highly recommend it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thoughts on God of War 1

So now that the glut of games that I received at Christmas had finally been parsed through I have gone back to God of War 1 in HD.

Maybe this is old news but God of War 1 is a fantastic game except for some horrendously awful points.

Combat is fluid and the degree of challenge increases naturally the further you progress.  I love that.  The animation of the chains flinging from Kratos' hand to demolish a mob is completely satisfying.  The story told through the cut scenes are rich and worthwhile (even if they didn't re-render those for HD). The puzzles within the environments are fantastically crafted.

My big gripe for the whole game is jumping/navigating on narrow wooden beams.  Seriously?  Miss the jump by just a smidge and you fall to your death.  Game Over.  Walk a little too close to the spinning blades to get knocked off the beams.  Game Over.  Add to the frustration, no control over the camera to even figure out where the heck I'm supposed to be going and you end up with such a feeling of frustration after feeling so many highs from earlier moments in the game.

I understand games should be challenging.  But game breaking, take you out of the experience, controller throwing, (potential TV destroying) designs just make me so mad.  I love to support great game developers, but hate when something so blatantly bad keeps you from being able to successfully finish a game, and would  I think developers should realize that something should be fixed. 

Granted I'm harping on an older game.  I'm sure it was harped on when the game was released.  I hope problems like that are fixed in God of War 2.  I also hope that if they weren't fixed in God of War 2, that they will be fixed in God of War 3.

Should games that have such complete broken moments in otherwise gorgeously executed designs be let off the hook?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Trophy count update

Well two weeks have gone by since I last posted about my trophy count and I can that compared to the folks over at IGN my could pales in comparison.  However I can't complain because I have been enjoying the games that I've been playing (not torturing myself with bad games that are easy trophies).

For the first week I picked up 13 bronze and 3 silver for a total of 95 points.  During the second week I picked up 7 bronze and 6 silver for a total of another 95 points.  Now compare that to even the 6th place contestant during the first week of IGN's contest (82 trophies for 670 points) and it looks like I won't even come close to Greg's first week for the entire month.  But I don't mind because as I said I'm enjoying the games not the collection of trophies.

For a full breakdown of trophy hunting check out the forums at

In my journey for trophy hunting this month I finished inFamous this week and I'll post my thoughts shortly.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Trophy count

As my "About Me" describes, I am a trophy hunter.  IGN has taken the idea of hunters or whores to a whole new level by creating a contest within their own ranks to see who can come out on top after a full month of gaming on the PS3.  They are calling it The Great IGN Trophy Whore War.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  I prefer the term hunter over whore.  Playing games simply to collect trophies defeats the purpose of playing the game--so you basically become a whore.  I'll admit to going a bit out of my way to boost my trophy count (cough cough--Hannah Montana) yet a large majority of my trophies are earned from playing the games that I actually enjoy.  Trophy hunting does add a certain compulsion to try different tactics or explore parts of a game that may otherwise be overlooked, but in the end I have to say that I like knowing that I have paid for a game and gotten my money's worth.  What better way to validate that than by looking at a column of shiny, bronze, silver, gold and platinum trophies?

I've decided to keep track of my own trophy hunting for the month in the same vein as the IGN staff and I'll give a weekly recap of my efforts.  At the end of January my count totaled 769 trophies which breaks down to 4 platinum, 31 gold, 131 silver and 600 bronze.

Currently in my gaming rotation for potential trophy collection are inFamous, Dragon Age: Origins, God of War Collection, Borderlands, Star Wars The Force Unleashed and GTA 4.

Stay tuned for the least important aspect of gaming, trophy hunting!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

You're such a girl

Over Christmas one of my co-workers got a PS3 from his wife along with a few games.   One night while comparing his trophies I noticed that he had Hannah Montana The Movie the video game.  I'll admit that I'm a sucker for trophies.  I prefer the term Trophy Hunter while others I know enjoy likening me to a "trophy whore".  In the end it doesn't matter because the trinkets are basically meaningless but to my mind add a bit of extra game play value.  Hannah Montana The Movie the video game (sounds so silly to say that five times fast) is a trophy hunter's dream.  The game is an easy Platinum-- Platinum being the highest trophy earned on a PS3 game after earning all others offered in a game.  Some games are brutally hard to earn a Platinum trophy. In the end when you look at the collection of trophies it is pretty cool to have some a few of the higher value.

I asked if I could borrow Hannah Montana The Movie the video game.  The initial reaction was, "Are you serious?  That's a kids game."  Hey I've got 3 kids.  I'm borrowing it so they can play it.  Again the response, "Are you serious?"  So I had to reveal the truth and say that I really only wanted to play it for the trophies.  My gamer cred (if I even really had any) was slowly dropping with my co-worker.  But after a few days of pleasantly asking if I could borrow the game he relented.

Thursday night I came home with Hannah Montana The Movie the video game.  I had dinner and then went downstairs to play the game.  My son (who is 9) came downstairs a few minutes after I had started to play, looked at the TV and realized that I wasn't playing Assassin's Creed II or Dragon Age: Origins and with a very incredulous tone asked, "What are YOU playing dad?"

"Hannah Montana The Movie the video game"

Blank stare back from my son.  He looked at the TV again and then looked at me and said, "You're such a girl sometimes dad" and promptly ran upstairs to tell the rest of the family.  "Dad's playing Hannah Montana!"  Several muted laughs could be heard through the basement ceiling.

Shortly after that however my son came back downstairs and asked if he could play now.

My son, being 9, has watched many episodes of Hannah Montana.  As a father I'd like to think that he is watching the show for the wholesome family friendly messages that are a part of each episode.  In reality I think it is a combination of him enjoying the slapstick nature of the kid centric hilarity on the show but also a bit of a young boy crush on Miley Cyrus.

Regardless of this I relented and let my son play because I had to go pick up my 11 year old daughter from dance practice.  Upon returning from picking up my daughter from dance I went back downstairs to find my son was completely sucked into the game and he would let me have the controller back.  My younger daughter came down to join us and after my son admitted that he couldn't figure out how to do the dance moves that are required during the musical numbers I took control and showed them both how to play.

Soon after that, we began to pass the controller round robin between the three of us and continued our time with Hannah Montana The Movie the video game. 

While some might poo-poo the game because it is a kid game, I have to suggest that those nay-sayers give the game a chance.  It isn't a complete wasted effort of a licensed property and tells a decent Hannah Montana story (I've been forced to watch enough of the show over the years to see the predictable formulaic outcome).  It apparently is good enough that my son even commented that he wants to watch the movie now.

The game revolves around the Miley being able to collect items to decorate her touring bus, fetch items to help out friends and relatives, and perform songs at various venues as the title character Hannah Montana.  (For those who don't know, in the fictional world people believe that Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus are two separate people.  "Comedy gold" ensues in pretty much every episode as Miley struggles to keep the facade up).  In this day and age of musical rhythm games it feels a bit odd to play one without any actual instruments, but as Hannah Montana sings throughout the game you are prompted with various movements that correspond to different stick movements with the controller.  The game also utilizes the SIXAXIS motion controller capabilities as you can shake the controller to activate some of the on screen prompts.  Overall the controls work fairly well as the challenge is not aimed at a parent of my age, but rather the 7-11 year old demographic that has made the show as popular as it is.

As songs are completed and items are found, credits are put into a little piggie bank.  This allows for the other game play aspect to kick in.  Shopping and playing dress-up.  The on screen likeness of Miley Cyrus is basically a walking talking paper doll that once clothes have been purchased (don't for get the jewelry too!) you can spend hours upon hours trying on various wardrobe styles.

Overall I have to say that I'm impressed with this game.  Two out of three kids in the house have really enjoyed it.  While it isn't a blockbuster AAA title like Uncharted 2, it is a game that is appropriate for kids that isn't too simple, has an engaging story (to a kid), and looks and sounds good.  Voice acting is done by the actual actors from the show and you can clearly tell who each character on screen represents as well.  Toss in a few carnival mini games, mix with the musical numbers and paper doll dress up and you've got a solid kid game.

If you have kids that enjoy the show, Hannah Montana The Movie the video game is worth picking up.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Borderlands online fun!

I've mentioned before that I really have enjoyed Borderlands but until this weekend I had never played the game online (sad to say since I bought the game day one but have typically had poor experiences with online play and just never felt the desire to try online with this game)

I can honestly say that as much fun as Borderlands is to play solo, online is so much more fun.

The amount of mobs that spawn feels like the same but their level of toughness definitely seems to increase.  However with the right mix of classes and talent points throughout the classes, the game balances itself perfectly.

Chaos ensues as more and more mobs flock to the group, but seeing how each class can compliment when the going gets tough, the game truly shines.

My only complaint is playing online with random PUGs there is no rolling on the drops.  My time on line was basically everyone for themselves when good items did drop.  The other complaint was seeing items listed on screen that were being picked up but there was no really good way of seeing what the item was.  Not that it really matters because items drop so frequently but it would be nice to be able to see that in retrospect. 

Two other things that I noticed are with the lack of anyone using voice chat in game.  If that was working no one was using it but it would be nice to be able to chat to make sure the everyone was on the same page as far where to go and which quest was being done.  Now granted the on screen display shows what quest is being pursued but with the frentic pace of the game when you join a game already in progress you better hope that the leader of the game knows what they heck they are doing.  The other thing that I find odd is the fact that with any other multiplayer game, once you leave and go the XMB you can find a list of Players Met from your various online matches, but no one met within Borderlands shows up.

With Mad Moxxi coming out soon and having arena play as the focus it would be nice to be able to add met players without having to hop to the XMB while still in game to add a player as a friend.

While most of this post seems negative I can't say enough on how much fun playing online with co-op is.  Maybe it's the fact that I get to play a shooter and not feel like I'm completely frag bait the moment the game loads.  Or maybe it's the fact that the overwhelming odds of the AI are against every player and working as a team to survive just makes it more enjoyable.  Regardless of the kinks I've mentioned, Borderlands is a great game to play online and can't wait to see what future DLC Gearbox has in store to continue the Pandora experience.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Years

Christmas came and went and I didn't get a chance to post anything here.  I hope you all had a Merry Christmas.  We did at our house.  Lots of good food and family came to share in the festivities.  The week between Christmas and New Years has flown by.  During that time, I've done little but become completely sucked into Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed 2.

The game starts out exactly from the moment of the end of Assissin's Creed 1 and after a short re-introduction into the story and the concept of the Animus you find yourself playing in the 1400s as Ezio Auditore.  Playing as Ezio, you don't start off immediately as a full on Assassin which is a nice touch for new players to the series, you slowly become introduced into game play mechanics and the Auditore family story.  The story is what really drew me into the game, tying my actions in with historical events.  In the beginning Ezio is a young playboy chasing women and running errands for his father, but events that he unintentionally perpetuates, tragedy forces Ezio to become an assassin.

Once Ezio takes on the role of the assassin, game play really kicks.  Jumping across rooftops allows you to navigate throughout the city without having to worry about bumping into everyone as you race from one area to the next.  A pretty cool concept to the game is the encouragement of climbing up and running across the rooftops by lifting the "fog of war" on the in-game map when you climb particularly tall viewpoints.  The vistas are dizzying and gratifying as you climb to explore and unlock new areas of the map.  Each city has a wealth of vendors to buy items from including tailors, art dealers, blacksmiths and doctors. 

As the story unfolds you become the head of a family villa that can increase its status and wealth by purchasing upgrades to same types of vendors mentioned above.  The advantage to upgrading the vendors in your own villa give you a discount when buying wares from them.  The disadvantage to upgrading said vendors is that you have to travel back to your villa to make the purchases.  Fortunately there are fast travel locations in each of the major cities but the load times to go from one city to the other almost makes it not worthwhile.  In the end, if you do invest in your villa you can reap the benefits by collecting funds from the improvements, which toward the end of the game have earned so much that it doesn't matter what vendor you spend money at because there is always a steady income at your disposal.

At the art vendor you have the option to buy treasure maps which then display all of the little hidden chests of money scattered throughout all of the cities.  I spent a fair amount of time collecting all of the treasures from the city of Florence  initially to earn more money for upgrades on medicine pouches but as the story progressed and I had the Villa's income at my disposal I have not been nearly as OCD about picking up every treasure (yet).

The game offers more than just treasures littered through each city for collection hounds such as myself.  There are also several key historical buildings that have hidden glyphs on them.  Switching to the assassin's "Eagle Vision" (which allows you to see all enemies in red, assisting factions--courtesans, thieves, and mercenaries--in blue) you can detect the glyphs.  The glyphs were hidden through the game by another subject of the Animus and help to flesh out the larger story beyond the direct Italian renaissance tale in AC2.  Once the glyphs are found they need to be unlocked.  The puzzles associated with each glyph varies from spotting hidden objects in photos or artwork, to unscrambling art to deciphering codes.  These glyph puzzles were some of my favorite moments within the game and the final payout was definitely worth the trouble to locate them all.

Another "collectible" within the world are 6 seals that unlock Altair's armor from the first game.  These seals are hidden within tombs from other Assassins.  Getting through these tombs however proved to be more than my meager game skills could handle.  I'm not sure if I'm just not cut out to race through certain obstacles under a time limit or if the game engine is out to frustrate me, but I could not complete 2 of the 6 tombs.  Camera controls within these tombs are intentionally locked and caused me to jump at the wrong angle more times that I want to share.  It's a shame too because the unlocking of the armor feels like it would be almost a necessity to really make Ezio a whole assassin, but for now I leave him gimped.

A final "collectible" within the game are Eagle feathers that are strewn across the rooftops and walkways in each city.  Not essential to the completion of the story, the reason for collecting them certainly will have a pay off in the end (and I don't just mean 2 additional trophies) but I don't want to spoil the story.

Overall I really have enjoyed what the game has to offer.  Combat at times is a bit wonky when there are more than 4 guards attacking and utilizing some of the special moves can be frustrating as well.  Jumping through some of the racing obstacles is also a bone of contention for me.  There are so many things to do within the game however that if you get stuck or frustrated with one thing there are "mail carrier" side quests and "beat up the dead beat husband" side quests that you can go off and do something else for a while before attempting to continue with any one particular area.

After playing through part of Assassin's Creed 1 and not finishing it, I would say that Ubisoft has definitely gotten things either fixed or finished as intended this time around.  Assassin's Creed 2 has a satisfying ending that still leaves it wide open for future stories.  This is definitely a mature game worth playing that fortunately doesn't make it so impossible that even a mature non-gamer couldn't get into and enjoy.  I may continue to collect items for the near future or I may finally start Dragon Age: Origins.

More later folks and good gaming!